Sociology AS


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  • Created by: Jordan
  • Created on: 10-01-13 17:54

Murdock (Functionalist) - Four Family Functions

The family performs four main functions:

  • Stable satisfaction of the sex drive
  • Reproduction of the next generation
  • Socialisation of the young (primary socialisation)
  • Meeting its members’ economic needs (food, shelter)
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Criticisms of Murdock

Others argue that the same functions could be performed by another institution.

 Marxists and feminists reject this harmonious view that the family meets the needs of all of its members and wider society.

Feminists see the family as serving the needs of men and oppression of women.

Marxists argue that it meets the needs of capitalism, not those of family members or society as a whole.

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Parsons (Functionalist) - Functional fit theory

Parsons’ ‘functional fit’ theory: The functions that the family has to perform will affect its ‘shape’ or structure. Parsons distinguishes between two kinds of family structure:

  • The nuclear family of just parents and dependent children.
  • The extended family of three generations living under one roof.

Parsons argues that the particular structure and functions of a given type of family will ‘fit’ the needs of the society in which it is found.

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Parsons (Functionalist) - Loss of functions

Loss of functions

The pre-industrial family was a multi-functional unit. It was both a unit of production and a unit of consumption. But in industrial society it has lost this unit of production function. And whereas in pre-industrial society the family structure was most commonly an extended family, now, in industrial society the most common family structure is the nuclear family.

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Parsons (Functionalist) - Two Irreducible Function

Parsons says the modern nuclear family comes to specialise in performing just to two essential or ‘irreducible’ functions:

  • The primary socialisation of children
  • The stabilisation of adult personalities (providing a place where adults can relax and release tensions, enabling them to return to the workplace refreshed)
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Marxist perspective of the family

Marxist sociologists see capitalist society as based on an unequal conflict between two social classes:

  • The capital class, who own the means of production.
  • The working class, whose labour the capitalists exploit for profit.

 Marxists see all society’s institutions, such as the education system, the media, religion and the state, along with the family, as helping to maintain class inequality and capitalism. Thus, for Marxists, the functions of the family are performed purely for the benefit of the capitalist system. This contrasts with the functionalists view. 

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Criticisms of the Marxist view

Marxists tend to assume that the nuclear family is dominant and ignores family diversity.

Feminists say that Marxists focus too much on social class and not gender inequality.

Functionalists argue that Marxists ignore the very real benefits of the family, such as intimacy and mutual support.

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Functions for fulfilling capitalism (Inheritance)

Inheritance of property

Capitalist class families try to keep property and means of production in the family, to be inherited by the heir in the family.

The working class families tend to inherit their fathers jobs. To ‘follow in dad’s footsteps’

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Functions for fulfilling capitalism (Ideology)

Ideological functions

Ideology is a set of ideas or beliefs that justify inequality and maintain the capitalist system by persuading people to accept it as fair, or natural.


Eli Zaretsky (1976) says the family performs an ideological function by an apparent ‘Haven’ similar to the ‘warm bath’ theory of functionalism. It shelters the working class from the harsh and exploitative world of capitalism outside in which workers can be themselves. 

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Functions for fulfilling capitalism (U O C)

A Unit of consumption

Capitalism exploits the labour or the workers, making a profit by selling the products of their labour for more than is pays them to produce these commodities. The family therefore plays a major role in generating profits, since it is an important market for the sale of consumer goods:

  • Advertisers urge families to ‘keep up with the joneses’ by consuming all the latest products.
  • The media target children, who use ‘pester power’ to persuade their parents to spend more.
  • Children who lack the latest clothes or ‘must have’ gadgets are mocked and stigmatised by their peers.


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Feminism's perspective of the family

  • Take a critical view of the family like Marxists. They say that it oppresses women.
  • Focus on unequal division of domestic labour and domestic violence against women.
  • They do not regard gender inequality as natural, but something created by society.
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Liberal Feminism - Perspective of the family

Liberal feminists hold a similar view to that of ‘march of progress’ theorists such as Young and Willmott. But do not think full gender equality has been achieved yet, but there has been some progress. For example some studies show that men are doing more domestic labour, and children are socialised more equally. 

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Marxist Feminism - Perspective of the family

Marxists feminists argue that women’s oppression in the family is not men, but capitalism. They perform these functions for capitalism:

  • Women reproduce the labour force – unpaid domestic labour, socialisation of next generation. maintaing and servicing the current one
  • Women absorb anger that would otherwise be directed at capitalism – Fran Ansley describes wives as ‘takers of ****’ who soak up the frustration of their husband feels because of the exploitation they suffer at work. For Marxists, this explains male domestic violence against women.
  • Women are a 'reserve army' of cheap labour that can be taken on when extra workers are needed.

Marxist feminists see the oppression of women in the family as linked to the exploitation of the working class.

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Radical Feminism - Perspective of the family

Radical feminists argue that all societies have been founded on patriarchy - rule by men.

For radical feminists, the key division in society is between men and women:

  • Men are the enemy: the source of women's oppresion and exploitation.
  • The family and marriage are the key institutions in patriarchal society. Men benefit from women's unpaid work and sexual services. Men dominate women through domestic violence, or threat of it.

For radical feminists, the patriarchal system needs to be over turned. In particular, the family, the root of women's oppression, must be abolished. 

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Difference Feminism - Perspective of the family

The other feminist approaches tend to assume that most women live in a conventional nuclear family and they share a similar experience of family life.

Difference feminists argue that we cannot generalise about women's experiences in this way. They argue that for example a women's experience depends of class, race and sexuality.

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Criticisms of perspectives on the family

There are major differences between functionalist, Marxist and feminist theories of the family. Other sociologists argue that all suffer from these weaknesses:

  • They all assume that the traditional nuclear family is the dominant family type, ignoring family diversity.
  • They are all structural theories. This means they think that families and their members are all puppets manipulated by the structure of society to perform certain functions.
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Demography - Births

There has been a long term decline in the number of births since 1900.

Birth rate in 1900 = 28.7

                     2007 = 10.7


  • Changes in the position of women
    • Legal equality with men
    • Career oppourtunities
    • Changes in attitude
    • Birth control - reliable contraception
  • Decline in infant morality rate
  • Children have become an economic liability - (live at home longer)
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Demography - Deaths

Death rate per 1000 of the population per year in 1900 = 19

                                                                       2007 =10

Life expectency in 1900 for men = 50

                                    2003-5 = 76.9   

Reasons for decline in death rate and increase of Life expectency:

  • Improved nutrition
    • Thomas Mckeown argues improved nutrition accounted for up to half the reduction in death rates
  • Medical improvements
    • Better medical care, NHS
  • Public health measures and environmental improvements
    • Public housing, improved sewage disposal, purer drinking water
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Demography - Migration

Between 1994 and 2004 immigration rose from 314,000 to 582,000 annually.

Emigration rose from 238,000 to 360,000 annually.

Immigration - movement into an area or society

Emigration - refers to movement out.

Net migration - the difference between numbers of immigrating and numbers emigrating.

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Demography - Divorce

Divorce has increased.

Reasons for increase:

  • Changes in the law
    • Divorce is now cheaper
    • Widened grounds for divorce
  • Declining stigma and changing attitudes
  • Secularisation
    • Refer to cohabitation
  • Rising expectations of marriage (Allan and Crow)
    • Fear of divorce
    • Now marrying for romantic love
  • Changes in the position of women
    • Women more likely to be in paid work
    • Equal pay act
    • Availiability of benefits
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Demography - Marriage

  • Fewer people are marrying: marriage rates are at their lowest since the 1920s. In 2005, there were 170,000 first marriages - less than half the number of 1970.
  • More re-marriages. 4 out of 10 marriages were re-marriages. leads to serial monogamy: a pattern of marriage - divorce - remarriage.
  • People are marrying later: marriage age has rose by 7 years in just over 30 years.


  • Changing attitudes to marriage - less pressure, freedom to choose. Singlehood.
  • Secularisation - may be less marriage due to no religion, not needing to marry.
  • Changes in the position of women - less economically dependent on men, career prospects.
  • Fear of divorce.
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Farha Iqbal

Hey your cards are really good and helpful. It's a shame no-one has commended you for sharing your work. I can see it must have taken a lot of precious time since, I made some myself but they were on the childhood and domesic division of labour. I never got the time to do some on these topics but they would have come up in the exam which ironically is tomorrow so yeah I should say a big thankyou. Though it's a shame I didn't come across them earlier.

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